Intel Core i9-12900K
RRP $ 619.00
"The Intel Core i9-12900K undercuts the competition in terms of price and delivers too high a performance."
Outperforms the Ryzen 9 5950X on most workloads
Significantly cheaper than the Ryzen 9 5950X
Solid overclocking headroom
PCIe 5.0 on supported motherboards
High power requirement
Runs a little hot
"Intel is back." It's a phrase you've mumbled ad nauseam if you've been paying attention to CPUs in the past few years, even before Intel fell behind AMD. It wasn't until AMD began to hit the desktop market with the introduction of Ryzen 5000 that Intel started putting those words into action – and the result is Alder Lake.
The Core i9-12900K is Intel's flagship Alder Lake chip and, after thorough testing, has earned a spot on our list of the best processors you can buy. Not only does it represent a new generation of processors, it's also the first release under a new CEO, the first time Intel has used its 10nm manufacturing process on the desktop, and the first time we have a hybrid CPU architecture in a slot-in processor.
It also represents a company that has rested on its laurels long enough to lose the thunder. AMD has overtaken Intel in the desktop and server market, and Apple has abandoned its longstanding partnership with Intel to develop its own chips that are faster and more efficient. However, Alder Lake shows that Intel is indeed back.
Specs: What is the difference between Alder Lake?
The Core i9-12900K is Alder Lake's flagship chip that sits above the Core i5 and Core i7 models. There are two variants available, both of which are enabled for overclocking.
The KF series chip lacks integrated graphics, but is also a little cheaper. In terms of performance, the two chips are identical.
|Cores||Base frequency||Max. Boost frequency||Intel Smart Cache (L3)||Integrated graphics||Basic service||Maximum turbo performance||Suggested price|
|Core i9-12900K||16 (8P + 8E)||3.2 GHz (P core), 2.4 GHz (E core)||Up to 5.2 GHz||30 MB||Intel UHD 770||125W||241W||$ 589|
|Core i9-12900KF||16 (8P + 8E)||3.2 GHz (P core), 2.4 GHz (E core)||Up to 5.2 GHz||30 MB||N / A||125W||241W||$ 564|
|Core i7-12700K||12 (8P + 4E)||3.6 GHz (P core), 2.7 GHz (E core||Up to 5.0 GHz||25 MB||Intel UHD 770||125W||190W||$ 409|
|Core i7-12700KF||12 (8P + 4E)||3.6 GHz (P core), 2.7 GHz (E core)||Up to 5.0 GHz||25 MB||N / A||125W||190W||$ 384|
|Core i5-12600K||10 (6P + 4E)||3.7 GHz (P core), 2.8 GHz (E core)||Up to 4.9 GHz||20 MB||Intel UHD 770||125W||150W||$ 289|
|Core i5-12600KF||10 (6P + 4E)||3.7 GHz (P core), 2.8 GHz (E core)||Up to 4.9 GHz||20 MB||N / A||125W||150W||$ 264|
A comparison of the specifications with AMD brings practically nothing. Not only do AMD and Intel use different architectures, the latest AMD chips don't use a hybrid architecture like Intel's. Both the Core i9-12900K and AMD's Ryzen 9 5950X are 16-core processors, but these cores couldn't be more different.
That's because the Core i9-12900K uses two types of cores. Instead of 16 large cores, it uses eight high-performance (P) cores and eight efficient (E) cores. The P-cores do the big, important tasks, while the E-cores clean everything up in the background. The Core i9-12900K is technically a 16-core processor, but only eight of these cores are comparable to AMD.
The two specs I can compare are price and performance. The Intel chip draws a lot more for performance – up to 241 watts at maximum turbo. The 5950X is only rated at 105W, although it can get closer to 200W when overclocked. However, this is well below the Core i9-12900K. The 5950X only requires a single 8-pin CPU connector while the Core i9-12900K requires two.
The power consumption is higher on the Core i9-12900K, but the price is lower. At the suggested price, the Core i9-12900K is $ 210 cheaper than the 5950X, although prices are closer to most retailers. The Core i9-12900K retails for around $ 650 while the Ryzen 9 5950X costs around $ 750. However, a $ 100 price difference is a significant loophole.
Before I get into the results, here are the four rigs I used for testing:
|Erlensee DDR5||Erlensee DDR4||AMD Zen 3||10th generation Intel|
|Central processor||Intel Core i9-12900K||Intel Core i9-12900K||AMD Ryzen 9 5950X||Intel Core i9-10900K|
|GPU||Nvidia RTX 3090 Founders Edition||Nvidia RTX 3090 Founders Edition||Nvidia RTX 3090 Founders Edition||Nvidia RTX 3090 Founders Edition|
|R.A.M.||32GB SK Hynix DDR5-4800||32GB Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-3200||32GB Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-3200||32GB Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-3200|
|Motherboard||MSI Z690 Carbon WLAN||MSI Pro Z690-A DDR4||Gigabyte Aorus B550 Elite||Asus Tuf Gaming Z490-Plus|
|CPU cooler||Corsair H115i Elite Capellix||Corsair H115i Elite Capellix||Corsair H115i Elite Capellix||Corsair H115i Elite Capellix|
|power supply||Be calm! 850W 80 Plus platinum||Be calm! 850W 80 Plus platinum||Be calm! 850W 80 Plus platinum||EVGA G6 1000W 80 Plus Gold|
|storage||Corsair MP400 1TB SSD||Corsair MP400 1TB SSD||Corsair MP400 1TB SSD||Crucial MX500 2TB SSD|
For my most important CPU and gaming tests, I ran the Alder Lake bank with DDR5. DDR5 is a platform perk, after all, so it should sit next to the processor to show what the Alder Lake and Z690 are capable of. Similarly, I ran my tests on the latest build of Windows 11 to make sure it was downloading the patches for the recent bugs caused by AMD chips.
Of course, DDR5 and Windows 11 Alder Lake appear in the most positive light. Even so, I retested DDR4 and Windows 10 to see the differences, and while there are some clear differences, they don't apply to all workloads.
Intel has promised a huge leap forward with Alder Lake, and based on my results, the Core i9-12900K delivers. In my testing, one thing became clear: Intel is capable of delivering the same 16-core performance as the AMD Ryzen 9 5950X, and not only at a lower price, but with half of its cores at full power.
|Intel Core i9-12900K||AMD Ryzen 9 5950X||Intel Core i9-10900K|
|Cinebench R23 single core||1,989||1,531||1,291|
|Cinebench R23 multicore||27,344||27,328||13,614|
|Geekbench 5 single core||2,036||1,726||1,362|
|Geekbench 5 multicore||18,259||14,239||10,715|
|PC Mark 10||9.092||8,254||7,593|
|Handbrake (seconds, lower is better)||47||58||72|
|Pugetbench for Premiere Pro||1,066||992||855|
|Pugetbench for Photoshop||1,315||1.009||1,023|
Cinebench R23 illustrates this perfectly. This demanding benchmark tasked the CPU with rendering an image, so it's a great way to isolate the processor from other components. If all cores are working, the Core i9-12900K and Ryzen 9 5950X deliver almost identical results.
That doesn't look good, but it's important to keep an eye on Alder Lake's hybrid architecture – and the fact that it's $ 200 less than the Ryzen 9 5950X. The single-core score highlights the discrepancy where the Core i9-12900K is almost 30% faster. Compared to the Core i9-10900K, the new chip is almost 62% faster in the single-core Cinebench R23 test.
The Core i9-12900K competes with the Ryzen 9 5900X in terms of price and the 5950X in terms of performance.
Geekbench 5 is a bit tighter, whereby the Core i9-12900K leaves the AMD chip behind by around 28% in the multi-core test. That's a massive improvement, but almost entirely on the back of DDR5. With DDR4, the Core i9-12900K is actually slower in the multi-core test than the Ryzen 9 5950X, but it retains the lead in the single-core test.
However, PC Mark 10 provides a good look at how these chips stack up overall. There the Core i9-12900K is around 10% faster than the Ryzen 9 5950X and around 20% faster than the 10th generation chip.
Both Intel chips have the edge when it comes to creative apps. Although the Core i9-10900K scores below the Ryzen 9 5950X in the Premiere Pro benchmark, it shouldn't be anywhere near as close as it is. The biggest difference comes from Photoshop, where the Core i9-12900K has a 30% lead over the Ryzen 9 5950X – likely on the back of DDR5.
Of the seven benchmarks I ran, the Ryzen 9 5950X only took first place in one: 7-Zip. In this test, the Ryzen 9 5950X is about 10% faster than the Core i9-12900K. This result explains the narrower Geekbench results because Geekbench takes into account file compression and decompression.
Intel supplied. The Core i9-12900K competes with the Ryzen 9 5900X in terms of price, but competes with the Ryzen 9 5950X in terms of performance – and comes out with a clear lead.
Intel has touted the Core i9-12900K as the best gaming CPU out there, and my results confirm it. It shows some clear advantages over the Core i9-10900K, but largely corresponds to the Ryzen 9 5950X. Still, there are a few issues with Alder Lake and certain games.
All of the tests listed below were run at 1080p with the graphics presets High to Ultra. I also ran tests at 1440p and 4K, although there isn't much to report. The differences are consistent at all resolutions, and at 4K, where games are tied to the GPU, the three chips show no difference in performance.
|Intel Core i9-12900K||AMD Ryzen 9 5950X||Intel Core i9-10900K|
|3D Mark Time Spy||19396||17922||18341|
|Red Dead Redemption 2||137 fps||135 fps||129 fps|
|Assassin's Creed Valhalla||118 fps||121 fps||122 fps|
|Forza Horizon 4||234 fps||201 fps||200 fps|
|Civilization VI (shooting time, lower is better)||7.3 seconds||7.5 seconds||6.5 seconds|
Assassin's Creed Valhalla is the best place to start as it is an example of a game that struggles with Alder Lake. It lags behind both the Ryzen 9 5950X and the Core i9-10900K. Worse, I couldn't get the benchmark to work consistently. The game crashed instantly, causing a headache for hours when I fixed an issue with no clear answer.
Ubisoft and Intel confirmed that Valhalla has an issue with the Core i9-12900K, but did not want to provide any further details. Regardless, if the game worked, it performed slightly below the Ryzen 9 5950X and Core i9-10900K. I haven't encountered any issues with other games, which suggests that this issue is on Ubisoft's side.
3D Mark shows a clearer scaling between the three chips, with the Ryzen 9 5950X and the Core i9-10900K in a close grouping, while the Core i9-12900K shoots forward. The end result is about 8% faster than the Ryzen 9 5950X, likely aided by DDR5's improved bandwidth. As I'll go into in the next section, DDR5 showed a clear advantage in this benchmark.
For the first time in a while, Intel is showing a clear lead in gaming.
My Ryzen 5950X result was almost identical to the one I got with the same chip in the Origin Neuron. However, the average score of the 3DMark leaderboards is slightly higher. This is likely a memory problem; Even with XMP enabled, the Ryzen 9 5950X delivered below-average results. You'd have to tighten the timings to get a higher score, an issue the Core i9-12900K doesn't have.
Forza Horizon 4 produced the largest difference in raw frame rate, with the Core i9-12900K having a 16% advantage over the other two chips. Forza also delivers frame rates specifically from the CPU, and the Core i9-12900K has some great advantages. At 1080p, it outperformed the Ryzen 9 5950X by 21% in CPU render frame rate and 10% in CPU simulation.
That game also showed a difference at 1440p, with the Core i9-12900K maintaining a solid 22 fps lead over the other two chips. While some games won't benefit much from Alder Lake – take my Red Dead Redemption 2 results as an example – others will do so for big wins.
For the first time in a while, Intel is showing a clear lead in gaming. The Core i9-12900K may be over the top for most games – after all, it's still tied to the GPU at 4K – but it still seems to go beyond last-gen parts and the competition.
DDR4 vs. DDR5
I did my main tests with DDR5. There is no getting around it: DDR5 offers advantages over DDR4. There's no world in which I could compare the Core i9-12900K to the Ryzen 9 5950X without sacrificing Intel's newer version.
DDR5 is an Alder Lake perk, so it's as relevant to performance as the processor itself. Even so, I retested a limited set of benchmarks with DDR4 to gauge how much difference you can expect with the new memory standard.
|PC Mark 10||8794||9092|
|3D Mark Time Spy (total)||18175||19396|
|Red Dead Redemption 2 (1080p Ultra)||114 fps||115 fps|
|Geekbench 5 single core||1902||2036|
|Geekbench 5 multicore||12969||18259|
|Pugetbench for Premiere Pro||1019||1066|
Overall, the differences are small – apart from an oddly large gap in my multi-core Geekbench 5 results. In games, DDR5 made no difference in Red Dead Redemption 2, and in 3D Mark Time Spy it meant a nearly 7% increase. That's not to be sniffed at, but consider the differences between the runs and the difference doesn't look that big.
Likewise, PCMark 10 with DDR5 only showed a 3% increase, and PugetBench for Premiere Pro showed virtually no difference. The eccentric is Geekbench's multi-core test, which showed an increase of almost 41% with DDR5. This illustrates the main performance point of DDR5: it really depends on the application.
DDR5 has a lot more bandwidth, but that comes at the expense of latency. Obviously, modern applications prefer bandwidth more, but some do so much more than others. Overall, you can see a slight upturn in DDR5, with some applications taking up the new memory standard particularly well.
However, I want to use this section to clear up some confusion. Although Alder Lake supports DDR4 and DDR5, they are not interchangeable. You cannot insert a DDR4 stick into a DDR5 motherboard or vice versa. Before you pick it up, make sure you know what type of memory your Z690 motherboard supports.
Windows 11 vs. Windows 10
Alder Lake not only represents the introduction of DDR5, but also the introduction of Windows 11. AMD chips have some issues with the new operating system, so I have the same limited set of tests on the Core i9-12900K and Ryzen 9 5950X on Windows performed 11 and Windows 10 to see the differences. There is not much to report.
|Intel Core i9-12900K Windows 11||Intel Core i9-12900K Windows 10|
|PC Mark 10||9092||7919|
|3D Mark Time Spy||19396||19511|
|Red Dead Redemption 2||115 fps||112 fps|
|Geekbench 5 single core||2036||1962|
|Geekbench 5 multicore||18259||18282|
|Pugetbench for Premiere Pro||1066||1283|
With the Core i9-12900K, the differences are largely negligible. The most noticeable increase came from PC Mark 10, where my Windows 11 rig was almost 15% faster. This is due to a high Creation Score in PC Mark 10, for which Alder Lake seems to be particularly well suited.
Premiere Pro also showed a big difference: about 20% more in favor of Windows 10. However, I used an older version of Premiere for my testing – v15.4, in case you're wondering – which may not have the same optimizations for Windows 11.
|AMD Ryzen 9 5950X Windows 11||AMD Ryzen 9 5950X Windows 10|
|PC Mark 10||8254||8041|
|3D Mark Time Spy||17922||17572|
|Red Dead Redemption 2||135 fps||133 fps|
|Geekbench 5 single core||1726||1710|
|Geekbench 5 multicore||14239||14084|
|Pugetbench for Premiere Pro||992||994|
There was no difference with the Ryzen 9 5950X either. While 3D Mark Time Spy and Red Dead Redemption 2 had some minor changes, none of them have any consequences. It's true that AMD chips had problems with Windows 11 before, but the latest Windows and AMD updates seemed to have solved them – at least in the tests I ran.
Overclocking, clock rates and thermals
The Core i9-12900K has a single-core boost of 5.2 GHz, which I have repeatedly achieved during testing. All-core frequencies are of course lower. In a 30-minute AIDA64 stress test, the chip reached an all-core frequency of 4.8 GHz and reached a peak value of 84 degrees Celsius with a power consumption of 210 W.
It's 84 degrees, but the Core i9-12900K didn't stay there long. AIDA64 is also a stress test that is still 16 degrees below the maximum operating temperature of 100 degrees. The chip usually stayed at 50 to 60 degrees Celsius under moderate load and only climbed higher when all cores were pushed to their limits.
As high-performance as it is, the Core i9-12900K has a high power requirement.
I dug into Intel's Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU) briefly to get a moderate overclock working. With Speed Booster, I was able to increase the frequency to 5 GHz with the press of a single button. Originally this created a much higher temperature, but after putting my cooler back in place everything went smoothly.
Alder Lake chips are rectangular, so the tried and true pea method of applying thermal paste didn't cover the chip. I just spread the paste a little – not to the edges – as I put it back on to cover it completely. The temperatures have returned to normal.
Although the Speed Booster allows you to overclock without any work, you can get higher clock speeds by manually optimizing the cores. I applied a 300MHz boost to all cores with the Intel Thermal Velocity Boost turned on and was able to hit 5.4GHz while using 300W of power. That is much. As powerful as it is, the Core i9-12900K follows in the footsteps of earlier Intel generations with high power requirements.
While there is still a lot of research to be done about how the P-Core and E-Core respond to overclocking, I noticed a few general trends during testing. The increase in the E-Core frequency did not have a major impact on power consumption, thermals or performance. The difference is workload specific, so overclocking your E-cores won't do anything for applications that primarily use the P-cores. On the flip side, the P-cores made up the majority of the performance and heat increases when overclocking, so it's best to be conservative with your P-core overclocks.
The Core i9-12900K represents many things for Intel, but most of all it represents a company ready to get competitive again. Even in the worst case, the Core i9-12900K corresponds to the Ryzen 9 5950X – and at a significantly lower price. At best, it outperforms both the best that AMD has to offer and everything else on the market.
Power supply is a problem, as has been the case for the past several generations of Intel. However, high performance demands are much easier to swallow when extra power is on the table, and that's exactly what the Core i9-12900K offers.
Are there alternatives?
There's currently nothing on the desktop like the Core i9-12900K. The closest competitor is the AMD Ryzen 9 5950X, although it's not nearly as fast as the Core i9-12900K.
How long it will take?
The Core i9-12900K will last for at least the next few years. When you buy a high-end processor like the Core i9-12900K, you'll likely be upgrading before performance becomes a major concern.
Should you buy it?
Yes sir. At the moment there is nothing that works as well as the Core i9-12900K. That said, it uses a lot of power, so make sure you buy a hefty power adapter and cooler to go with it.